Celebrate independence in retirement today — in San Miguel and all over the world.

retirement image Celebrate independence in retirement today — in San Miguel and all over the world.The author of this article is my new hero. She and her husband give a whole new meaning to the concept of retirement. They retire in San Miguel — and all over the world. 

Their ingenious, adventurous retirement plan takes the RE (as in “Yawn. Been there, done that.”) out of retirement. Removes the TIRE (what’s to get tired of in such gutsy golden years?) and focuses on the MENT. As in: this is how the golden years are ME(A)NT to be—fun, fulfilling, and full of experiences.

Gotta love having intrepid retirement idols. 

One question: Would my cat be into world travel? I can see him in a beret…

 

 

xo casita1 Celebrate independence in retirement today — in San Miguel and all over the world.
www.casitadelasflores.com
—Your best value (and most fun) alternative to
expensive hotels and B&B’s in retirement-friendly San Miguel de Allende

 

The article from the Huffington Post:

Screen Shot 2013 07 04 at 4.27.15 PM Celebrate independence in retirement today — in San Miguel and all over the world.

 

How We Became International Senior Gypsies In Retirement

Our children gasped and our friends were speechless when we sold our beautiful California house along with most of the furniture, put our treasures in storage, and set out to live internationally without a home base. At 72 and 67, we have been home free for two-and-a-half years, lived in nine countries, and we have never been healthier or happier! Buenos Aires, Argentina, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, Paris, Florence, Istanbul, London, Dublin, Marrakech, Morocco, and California’s Central Coast have been our temporary homes for anywhere from two weeks to three months at a time. We’re living in Paris for three months this year. Berlin will be our home in August, while in September we will return to a favorite village in Britain, near Henry the VIII’s Hampton Court Palace, outside London. Our repositioning cruise from Copenhagen will take us back to the United States in October, where we’ll rent a place through the holidays. We have no home base, and all of our belongings are in a 10′ by 15′ storage unit in California.

retirement quote Celebrate independence in retirement today — in San Miguel and all over the world.We made our decision when we realized that we were just marking time by staying at home. We are two perfectly healthy people who love to travel, but we were trapped by our possessions and our family ties. Our time to experience the world in more than three-week vacation spurts was running out. In today’s world, we can reasonably expect to live for at least another twenty years, and we realized that we wanted to make the most of it.

When people ask how we can afford such a lifestyle, we explain that our formula isn’t calculus, it’s just arithmetic. We traded the amount of money we were spending to maintain our California lifestyle for a new style — on the road. When we calculated the mortgage, property taxes, insurance, maintenance, utilities and all the rest required to maintain our permanent home, we saw immediately how that could be translated into an international life on the road, and we acted upon it.

Miraculously, our house sold in one day and my husband Tim became our self-taught personal travel agent. He was glued to the computer screen every day as he learned about repositioning cruises (cruise ship lines move their equipment twice a year from one part of the world to another and offer passengers exceptional deals for those voyages), apartments and houses for rent through vrbo.com (Vacation Rental by Owner) and homeaway.com, car rental deals, trains, planes, hotels and communications options.

In the meantime, we were both busy sorting decades of accumulated possessions and working through the myriad technical challenges of becoming home free. We lost sleep fretting over pressing issues like health insurance, banking arrangements, voting, taxes, mail, what to do with our darling dog, and how many pairs of shoes we’d need in Argentina! The ensuing chaos, coupled with a veiled undercurrent of disbelief and disapproval from some quarters made the process even more daunting. Our sense of humor and confidence in our new direction were tested almost daily, but we carried on and within four months we were ready to hit the road.

We were exhausted but exuberant as we left California, ambivalent about leaving our children and grandchildren, our friends, and the comfort of our home and familiar routines, but we soon learned that we had made the right choice! Our adventures, from an impromptu wine tasting with some of Portugal’s best-known wine makers to being caught knee-deep in an Istanbul cloudburst, to the luxury of “wasting” a day simply wandering the streets of Paris without a goal, have expanded our world view and given us the self confidence to know that, even as senior citizens, we can still master almost any situation. Experience and cunning beat youth and enthusiasm every time!

We’ve even started a new career. Last year I was encouraged by an acquaintance to submit a story about our unusual retirement choice to The Wall Street Journal. The resulting article received unprecedented response and through that exposure I acquired a literary agent and publisher. My book, “Home Free,” published by Sourcebooks, Inc., will appear April 1, 2014. Thousands of new friends read our website, Home Free Adventures, regularly, and many of them tell us that they are following our lead, finding ways to expand their horizons in their retirement. Home free living certainly isn’t for everyone, but house trading, extended vacations, house sitting or even joining a new club in one’s own neighborhood can have a positive effect for any older person. Encouraging other retirees to seek new experiences has been a surprising, rewarding development for these two home free travelers!

Happily, our friends and children, our doctors and our financial advisor have become our most enthusiastic supporters. They have seen how being home free has changed our outlook, our health, and our portfolio in a positive way. So far, all is well and we don’t plan to stop until the wheels fall off!

The Casita de las Flores Story

—or— how to start a B&K

(don’t try this at home)

casita before11 The Casita de las Flores Story

What a trip

Once upon a time, eleven years ago, in a land sort of far away…

a dusty, overheated and traumatized (Mexican roads) 12-year-old Nissan Pathfinder rattled into the yet-to-be-fully-discovered town of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

The car, more tan than red at this point, lurched to a stop next to the (then only) Pemex gas station on Ancha de San Antonio, the main drag. Muffled sound emanated through the closed windows, and the attendants in their green coveralls looked at the car sideways…is that a cat howling? Is that women arguing?

“I’ve just got to stretch my legs!” I shouted, slamming the door and stalking away. A few deep breaths in the nostalgic noise and fumes of Mexico, my childhood home, calmed me (oddly enough).

My temper was frayed, to say the least, after three days cooped up in a car with:

• My mother (very cranky)
• My cat (also cranky)
• My two large dogs (good sports, really)
• Blurry childhood memories
• Absurdly high hopes
• No idea whatsoever of how to make a living in Mexico.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

A few months and three days earlier, I had started packing up 15 years of life, college, work, grad school, and then more work in San Diego, California. I had decided to move back to San Miguel, where I lived as a kid. Where my mother still lives. She kindly came up to help me pack, not realizing it would take more than a month to finish dismantling and dispersing said unreasonably cluttered life.

We set off on a three-day road trip, visiting family on the way. We never drove more than eight hours a day, but it felt like 28. We stayed at whatever strange lodgings accepted pets. Or we snuck them in.

Crossing the line

When we hit the border two days later, my mother got the dogs out of the car for a stroll. The Mexican customs official came over to the open rear hatch of my car, leaned his folded arms on the tailgate, and, lifting the top blanket, surveyed the two-foot-thick mass of densely packed items that lined the back.

The top layer was only a taste of the madness that lay below. An hors d’oeuvre, if you will. Ie: a cast iron frying pan filled with rolled-up underwear. A French-English dictionary the size of a toaster oven. A box of Triscuits (regular flavor). A set of knives, forks and spoons bundled with a rubber band. The base of a cordless phone. A cheese grater with several pair of socks stuffed inside. A pair of folded flare-leg jeans (be kind — it was 2000, after all).

My “baggage” was huge, and deep. It had levels, it had strata, it had echelons, even. My mother, the self-appointed Master Packer, had convinced me that her method was the most efficient. “More stuff will fit without boxes,” she said, wedging my hair dryer next to a framed photo of my father wrapped in two sweaters. “If I just pack it very carefully.”

What resulted was a three-dimensional possession puzzle, like a huge lasagna, composed of my worldly goods — topped off with my bedding and an old dog blanket. Rilke and Buddha, my dogs, rode 3,000 miles to Mexico on top of what was left my life, basically.

As Isolde, my cat, meowled indignantly from her cage behind the driver’s seat, the customs guy dropped the top blanket and put his head down on his folded arms. I just stood there, smiling my best kiss-up-to-uniformed-third-world-authority-figures-so-as-to-be-on-my-way-soon smile. Looking up, he turned to watch my mother carrying on a loud one-way conversation with the dogs as they sniffed at a post a few yards away. Finally, he looked at me.

“You got any guns or drugs in there?” he asked, gesturing vaguely at my lasagna.
“Why, no.” I answered, grinning madly. “Of course not.”
“Bien.” He said, slapping the car as he turned to walk away. “You can go.”

The rest of the trip was pastel (cake.) And so, my mother and I made it home to San Miguel, without getting pulled over into secondary inspection (which, in unpacking and repacking, would have delayed us by at least 12 hours) or killing each other.

How to start a B&B (not)

I wasn’t trying to get rich (not going to happen), but I needed to be able to support myself in the style to which I hoped to become accustomed. So, hourly Mexican wages were not an option. I also had to have time for creative projects (whatever they might be), so a normal, full-time job was equally out of the question. After several months of dawdling around trying to find a non-toxic way to pay for a modest life here, I decided real estate had to be the thing.

Through several strange coincidences, I found a very odd little property in a great, as-yet-ungentrified, older San Miguel neighborhood not too far from the Centro. With five bedrooms, a kitchen, two baths and no living room, the house sat on a dirt rubble “road” (read: riverbed), but it had a second entrance on a nicer street. (Both streets have mercifully been repaved since.)

As often happens when I get excited about an idea, I leapt without looking (at more than one place). I bought my cute little hovel and started fixing it up immediately.

Somewhere during the 3 months that turned into a year of renovations, I had a conversation.
“What are you going to do with it when it’s done?” asked a friend as we poked around the construction site, choking on cement dust.
“Make it a vacation rental, I guess.“
“You’d probably make more money if you made it a B&B.” He said.
And Casita de las Flores was born. (Thank you, friend.)

The Casita (technically not a B&B but a B&K — Bed and Kitchen) started out on the thinnest of shoestrings in 2002. A garage sale fridge, a garage sale stove. Mattresses on tapetes (woven straw mats) on the floor.

The very first weekend we rented was the infamous erstwhile Pamplonada, when 20 or so young people paid to not sleep at my place. (They were very busy partying all night and vomiting in the town square.) Other than a very messy avocado/guayaba fight, the Casita survived their onslaught. (PS: in September, our trees offer you all the free avocados and guayabas you can eat — NOT throw.)

This inauspicious event helped me pay for bed frames, closets, desks, and chairs. For the website, I had to go into hock. Soon after, Casita de las Flores really opened for business.

We started out charging US $20 a night for one person. Less than US $400 for a month. My very first guests stayed before construction was totally done and are now lifelong friends. (I was so happy to have them there. Such forgiving women.) Spring just had her first baby and Tina is coming to stay with me again next month.

San Miguel business school

Of course, I had no experience whatsoever in the field (other than having traveled a lot, and having often been a guest/critic at different accommodations). Business plans are much worse than Greek to me — they’re like math (shudder). My minimal market research was tooling around on the internet to see if the name was taken. (Since then, the Casita name and website text have been stolen wholesale by a place in Chile, thank you very much. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or so they say.)

But I’ve always felt I knew better than most how things should be done (much to others‘ chagrin), so I figured I could handle it. And I knew in my bones that San Miguel needed a comfortable, accessible place for real travelers to stay. Not some fancy shmancy US $120 a night place, but something even I could afford. A place where I would want to stay. A place where I could have both my privacy and an opportunity for social interaction (a much different interaction from what can be had in an impersonal hotel, a sterile lobby, or a sloppy bar). Those were my guiding principles. That and a love of art projects (none so huge, before the Casita).

Casita de las Flores took a while to catch on. Our first year, earnings were laughable (cryable, mostly), but I kept meeting great people and business slowly grew.

In the first months, we had a particularly difficult guest who complained about absolutely everything. The noise from doves and roosters. The sounds from the high school across the street. The occasional noise from neighbors. The lights’ sporadic flickering. The dust. The breeze. The sun. (Basically, she was complaining about Mexico.) “It’s not as nice as a Motel 6,” she said of the Casita, sniffing, as she left. (The profoundest of compliments, I’ve come to realize.)

As soon as her taxi sped (well, rolled) away, I grabbed my web guy by the collar and told him we were making some changes. I went back into my lovingly designed and written website and dressed it down. I took out all marketingspeak and made things sound less inviting. Consciously working for the frump factor, I spoke of Mexico in all its gritty glory.

Since then, we’ve mostly gotten travelers (a very different breed from your average tourist). These are people who’ve been around. Who know that things are unavoidably different in other countries (that’s actually why they go there.) And who know that finding an oasis of comfort, security, charm, and relative peace in any foreign country, much less a developing nation, for under US $50 a night is not to be sneezed at. They are grateful for my efforts, and I am very grateful for them. My customers and I get along swimmingly now. Mostly. (See Lesson 2).

Build and learn

Back to the shoestring. We started out with a garage sale fridge and stove, and minimal furnishings or decor. Seven years later, we have a fancy newish fridge (time flies) a garage sale stove (still works perfectly), and quite a bit of cute stuff. (But not too much—I hate cluttered decor. The Casita is of the little-known Mexican Zen School.) We make a living. More importantly, we have made tons of friends and family. Even more importantly than that, we’ve learned a lot.

(And the place has changed a wee bit…)

img 17031 The Casita de las Flores Story

Lesson 1: 99% of people are really great (at least in our price range). Oddly enough, this business has increased my estimation of human nature, which wasn’t terribly high nine years ago. Through this very social enterprise, I have met quantities of fabulous people, many of whom are now friends and neighbors. And, thank the modern gods of rampant criticism, the large majority of our reviews have been good ones. Though the occasional malcontent and his/her (snarky, public) bad review still hurts (see Lesson 2).

Casita de las Flores is fortunate to have many return guests who enjoy coming home to us, year after year. (I hope they like the color we just painted the kitchen, and Gayle’s room—I’m expecting some flack. People get attached.) My favorite example: a group of women (three of them named Gail, in various spellings) who met at the Casita years ago returned for a “Casita Reunion” here last October. It was a time of much giggling.

At least once a month, be it at a party, an art opening, or at the grocery store, I run into a former guest who is now a San Miguel resident. I love this brand of deja vu, and I love knowing that the Casita was their first home in this town. Together, we’ve survived the real estate boom, world renown, the cartel hysteria, the swine flu hysteria, and even (more or less) the first-world media. They are now my men- and women-at-arms, my hairdressers and acupuncturists, my vecinos and compadres.

Lesson 2. You really CAN’T please everyone all the time. Unfortunately, that less shiny one percent of guests — the ones who are never happy no matter how much you do, no matter how much you give — sometimes seem to outweigh the other 99%. They have made me, on more than one occasion, consider selling the business. But then the 99% moves in again and I feel better, and I keep on.

Lesson 3: Humans are (mostly) sociable animals. Sure, there’s been the occasional fight over cheese ownership (we now have a separate fridge shelf for each room) and we’ve had a few feuds. (The Casita is its own little ecosystem, after all, evolving with each group of guests.) But mostly, people have fun. They befriend one another. They end up having dinner parties and outings and trips together. Sometimes, they even become good friends and correspond with each other, and me, for years. (This whole people-getting-together thing was a huge, unexpected fringe benefit buried within the “let’s start a B&K, shall we?” pseudo-plan.) Of course, socializing is optional. If you simply “vant to be alone,” we’ve got privacy, too.

Lesson 4. It is possible to make a meaningful life outside the box. Ok, Casita de las Flores is not saving the world. (It may be saving my life, however, as I slowly recover from 9 to 5 fluorescent lights.) I’m no Mother Teresa, but, I take my role as a Vacational Therapist™ quite seriously.

I now know (yes, in my bones) that this “job” is not really a job, and that it’s far from just a means to an end. Ok, so Casita de las Flores makes us a living (nearly every month!), but more importantly, the Casita helps people. Not in any huge, earth-shattering ways, but in small, yet meaningful ways. Having this unusual little nook in which to be at home while not at home helps our guests to make connections—with San Miguel, with fellow travelers, and (most importantly) with themselves. (Often by allowing them to have a moment or many to simply be.)

After hours and hours of travel and years and years in the hectic realms of the first world, people often arrive stressed out, exhausted and extremely cranky. They blow in the door, blasting cold first-world anxiety with them:

“My luggage…it didn’t get here!”
“My cell phone isn’t getting reception!”
“I left my wallet in the cab!”
“What do you mean there’s no TV??!!!!”

After a few days, it’s a different story…

Several years ago, on a particularly technicolor-blue sky, big white puffy-cloud, birdsong and butterfly day, I wandered out to the patio with my pruning shears. There was a guest,

magic hammock1 The Casita de las Flores Story

casita de las flores san miguel’s magical, stress-vanishing hammock

gently swaying in the hammock, lazily trailing her fingers back and forth on the patio bricks.
“Whatcha doing, Molly?” I asked.
“Watching the laundry dry,” she replied.
I turned and tiptoed away, smiling. Another Vacational Therapy™ success story. Life is good.

Hasta pronto!

xo,

Casita de las Flores B&K (Bed and Kitchen)
www.casitadelasflores.com

—Your best value (and most fun) alternative to
expensive San Miguel de Allende hotels and B&B’s

PS: If you enjoyed this narrative, please pass it on and bring Triscuits! (regular flavor). See below…

PPS: To see more before and after pictures, go to our picture gallery.

Triscuiteers of the World, Unite!

Aways on the cutting edge, Casita de las Flores is inaugurating a revolutionary new marketing scheme. The Triscuit Tally. Each box of wonderful woven wheat wafers that makes it down here will represent one person who found this story, read the whole thing without falling asleep (maybe) and who then made it all the way to the Casita. Keep up with the Triscuit Tally here, on our very own blog.

Washington Post on Violence in Mexico—in very few, specific places, the rest is safer than many US cities

 

The major media chimes in on violence in Mexico, as well as a few expats and residents. It’s about #$@%! time. You tell me: are the media suffering from hysteria fatigue, or is America getting tired of the gory violence in mexico2 Washington Post on Violence in Mexico—in very few, specific places, the rest is safer than many US citiesexaggerated misconceptions about its beautiful, misunderstood neighbor?

 

Of course, you guys—being inquiring, informed, intrepid and intelligent world travelers—already knew all of this. (Forward this to your less savvy friends. Then you can say “Te lo dije!” That’s Spanish for “I told you so.”)

 

Some juicy tidbits to whet your appetite for truth, sanity and an end to media fearmongering: (Forgive me, but i’m going to put these direct quotes from the Washington Post in really big, colorful text, just for the sheer joy of it.)

 

“’It’s a real shame for people to write off a whole country without looking at the map and at the statistics.’ Without a solid understanding of the geography (761,606 square miles) and the nature of the drug wars (internecine fighting), many foreigners assume that all of Mexico is a war zone. But it isn’t…”

 

“Of 2,500 municipalities (what we call counties), only 80, or fewer than 5 percent, have been affected by the drug war, which accounts for only 3 percent of all crime. Mexican cities are also safer than some urban centers north of the border: Mexico City, for example, has 8.3 homicides a year per 100,000 people. That’s fewer than Miami (14.1) and Chicago (16.1).”

 

Reprinted from the Washington post. Click here to go to the original article.

 

Viva Mexico lindo!

washpostmast Washington Post on Violence in Mexico—in very few, specific places, the rest is safer than many US cities

Mexico: A guide to which parts are safe to travel to, and which are dangerous

washpyramid1 Washington Post on Violence in Mexico—in very few, specific places, the rest is safer than many US cities

By , Published: December 16, 2011

Shortly before Arnoldo Pedroza was scheduled to lead a tour south of Mexico City, the local guide started to worry that recent disturbances would sabotage his trip. He followed news updates anxiously, hoping that the area would cool off and officials wouldn’t ban visitors.You’re thinking drug cartels, vendettas and gunfire? Wrong. Pedroza was worried about spraying lava, not flying bullets.

 

“It is an active volcano,” said Pedroza of Popocatepetl, the volatile volcano up which he led a group of American mountaineers a few weeks ago. “I was afraid that it was going to pour lava, but it stayed quiet.”Mexico’s second-highest mountain is an apt metaphor for the country itself: Despite threatening rumblings, danger doesn’t always materialize. Sometimes it’s even all in our heads. Yet misperceptions dog Mexico, which has been seriously shaken by the ongoing turf battles between drug cartelsand the frontal-assault strategy employed by President Felipe Calderon’s government.“There’s a big gap between perception and reality,” says Margot Lee Shetterly, a Hampton, Va., native who relocated to Mexico with her husband six years ago. “It’s a real shame for people to write off a whole country without looking at the map and at the statistics.”Without a solid understanding of the geography (761,606 square miles) and the nature of the drug wars(internecine fighting), many foreigners assume that all of Mexico is a war zone. But it isn’t.“The episodes of violence are in very specific pockets,” says Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete, chief operating officer of the Mexico Tourism Board, “and are unrelated to tourism.”For proof, Lopez-Negrete rolls out the statistics, derived from a combination of government and non-government sources: Of 2,500 municipalities (what we call counties), only 80, or fewer than 5 percent, have been affected by the drug war, which accounts for only 3 percent of all crime. Mexican cities are also safer than some urban centers north of the border: Mexico City, for example, has 8.3 homicides a year per 100,000 people. That’s fewer than Miami (14.1) and Chicago (16.1). On a global scale, Mexico is safer than many of its neighbors. In 2008, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported Mexico’s homicide rate as 11.6 per 100,000, significantly lower than Honduras (60.9), Jamaica (59.5) or El Salvador (51.8).But these figures don’t negate the fact that some places in Mexico are extraordinarily dangerous — so dangerous that they should be mummified in crime tape.“We are very much focused on Mexico,” says Hugo Rodriguez, chief for Western Hemisphere Affairs in the State Department’s Office of American Citizens Services. “Providing U.S. citizens traveling to and living in Mexico with accurate information about the security situation there is a high priority for us.” The agency’s travel warning on Mexico, last updated in April, specifies the dangers by state, delineating the possible threats to Americans, 4.7 million of whom visited from January through October.

 

Yet countless tourists balk at the border, unsure of where — or whether — to go.Well, we’ll tell you. We spoke to security experts, tour operators, government officials and expats for advice on where you can comfortably kick off your sandals and places you should avoid or explore with caution.

 

One quick PSA: No matter the destination, always be aware of your surroundings and follow the commandments of common sense: Register with the U.S embassy, don’t walk in the dark alone, keep the bling at home, etc. Street crime, like multiple days of rain or a vengeful plate of beans, can really ruin a good vacation.Visit with abandon (and your family)We know what you want: to plop down on the beach, sip a margarita and feel your stresses turn to goo beneath the hot Mexican sun.You’re not alone. About 90 percent of tourists flock to the beach resorts on both coasts, says Lopez-Negrete. Nor will you be disappointed. The majority of beach resorts, especially along the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, are sheltered oases.“Quintana Roo and the Mayan Riviera are safe by Mexican standards and safe by Latin American standards,” says Pablo Weisz, regional security manager for the Americas at International SOS and Control Risks, referring to the state and nickname of the major beach destinations.Mark these in your vacation planners as safe: Cancun, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen on the Yucatan Peninsula, and on the Pacific side, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. Some spots left out of the glossy brochures also make the list, such as the colonial city of Campeche, a World Heritage Site on the gulf, and Merida, a city west of Cancun on the Yucatan. In addition, most day trips from the strands, including outings to the Mayan ruins, also occupy the lowest rung on the risk ladder. These excursions include Tulum, Uxmal and Chichen Itza.“I would take my family to these areas,” says Temo Tarrago, an Americas risk specialist with iJet, a global security risk assessment firm, offering the ultimate stamp of approval.The open lanes of travel don’t lead only south; they also wiggle inland, to colonial towns delightful with culture, crafts and heaping plates of regional cuisine.“Leon is large, safe and modern, but is also 400-plus years old. It’s the country’s leather capital; there is outstanding shoe shopping,” Shetterly wrote by e-mail. “From Leon, you have access to Guanajuato (World Heritage Site), San Miguel [de Allende] (expat enclave, tons of art, culture, concerts, great food, etc.) and even Queretaro(a gorgeous colonial city that is closer to Mexico City).”The experts also place smiley-face stickers next to the state of Chiapas, home to ruins, biosphere reserves, textiles and the cultural city of San Cristobal de las Casas.Finally, Oaxacadominated 2006 headlines because of protests gone awry, but the city known for its culinary traditions (pass the mole) has calmed down. The teachers union still strikes periodically, but the protests are typically peaceful. If you’re considering going to Oaxaca soon, your timing couldn’t be better: The strikes have already taken place this year. All’s likely to be quiet until the next school year.Go with caution, or a burly friend

 Pack your precautions for some areas that have improved substantially but still present slight risks.

Border town Tijuana has always worn a badge of dissolution, thanks to a spinning turnstile of partiers, drug suppliers and underworld denizens. But the government’s recent crackdown on the cartels has helped clean up the place.

“Tijuana is perfectly fine,” says Lopez-Negrete. “It has gone through a major renovation and transformation.”

Security experts agree on the metamorphosis but place an asterisk beside the town’s name. “It’s not as much of a concern,” says Weisz, “but that doesn’t mean that it should necessarily be considered safe.”

As safeguards, avoid low-end bars and drink or eat only items that have been prepared in front of you. Also, travel during the day and plan your modes of transportation in advance.

Mexico City is a beast of a different nature. The capital city of 20 million people isn’t pocked with drug-related skirmishes, but it does suffer from endemic street crime. Pickpocketing, shake-downs and kidnappings are common occurrences.

“It is a challenge by sheer size,” Tarrago says. “There are no drug cartels, but it does have organized crime.”

Tarrago reminds visitors to hire cabs only from authorized taxi stands and hotels, to keep valuables well hidden and to avoid unfamiliar places at night. “Know where you’re going and be aware of your surroundings,” says the Mexican native, recommending the upscale areas of Polanco and Las Lomas.

Although Guadalajara is unraveling and has experienced drug cartel-related activity, the violence hasn’t spilled over to Lake Chapala, less than 30 miles southeast. Ringed by small communities, the country’s largest freshwater lake draws retired North American expats and migratory birds to its shores.

“The security situation is kind of fluid,” says Tarrago, “but it’s not really affecting normal travelers.” That includes the American white pelican.

 

Don’t visit unless you’re a commando

Drug cartels don’t target tourists; the battle is cartel vs. cartel and cartel vs. government. Yet sometimes innocent folks find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. The best way to avoid this unfortunate situation is to not go there.

So where aren’t you going? The towns along the border with the United States and along the Rio Grande, a line more than 1,200 miles long. One of the worst is Ciudad Juarez, where the current murder toll of six or seven a day is considered an improvement, according to Walter McKay, a Canadian expat who maps the narco-murders and posts the results on his Web site, Policereform.org.

While you’re crossing off names, draw a black mark through the entire state of Chihuahua, which accounts for 14 percent of the killings nationwide.

“It has the most violence in the whole country,” says Tarrago, who also warns against Copper Canyon, a natural wonder that is larger than the Grand Canyon and is reached by high-altitude train. “It’s remote,” he said. “I wouldn’t advise anyone to go there at this time.”

On the west coast, red flags wave in the northern areas of Baja California. Despite increased security — “They are better than they were before,” says Tarrago — travelers may come across military checkpoints and potentially sticky situations.

“You have to drive through dangerous areas to get to low-risk ones,” says Weisz. “You’re putting yourself at the mercy of those risks.” The solution: Fly south to Cabo.

Southeast of Baja, Guadalajara hosted the Pan American Games in October without incident. Seems safe, right? But no. A month later, 26 bodies were discovered on a road not far from the Millennium Arches, an iconic downtown structure.

“About 80 percent of Guadalajara is safe,” said McKay, “but how would you know which part of the city to avoid?” An easy solution: Avoid it all.

Some areas are an easy call, such as destinations along the northbound drug routes and near ports, such as Veracruz (city and state), Monterrey and the resort town of Mazatlan.

But one destination now considered dangerous is tougher to fathom. In its heyday, Acapulco was the glittery playground of jetsetters and such silver screen royalty as Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot. It later morphed into a spring break haunt. Now, its beaches are empty, its resorts devoid of guests — a casualty of heavy cartel violence. (To make matters worse, a 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck on Dec. 10.)

“Acapulco used to be a beautiful place to go to,” says McKay, “but you don’t go there anymore.”

The State Department advises Americans to “exercise extreme caution when visiting downtown Acapulco,” but thoughtfully provides an alternative: Diamante, a few miles south of downtown. That tourist area’s major selling point: “It has not been affected by the increasing violence” in Acapulco — a paradise lost, at least for now.

 
 
 
 

“Mexico safer than headlines indicate” —vindication, at last!

mexican dancer1 Mexico safer than headlines indicate —vindication, at last!

This article makes us so happy, we just gotta dance. Photo by Michael Amici.

What with all of our protestations of media mistreatment, we know you’ve probably been thinking “boy those Casita people sure are conspiracy theorists.” Or maybe you were going to start calling us Cassandra de las Flores.

But no, we’re not nuts, just the on the David end of the David and Goliath Public Opinion of Mexico Syndrome (commonly known as DGPOMS, at least around here).

The attached article on safety in Mexico is so balanced and honest, it deserves a re-print in its entirety. Will send (Oaxaca) chocolate (the cinnamonny kind) and flowers (calla lilies) to Christine Delsol. Or better yet, invite her to stay at the Casita.

The only thing we’d criticize about the article is the lukewarm headline. We feel it should be something more like “Most of Mexico is Probably Safer than where You Live, so Get Over the Trendy Media Hysteria and Get Down to that Beautiful, Amiable, Fun and Affordable Country!” Guess that might not fit, though.

Don’t miss the safety travel tips—good while travelling to Mexico or anywhere. (Our personal fave: “Don’t get drunk and stumble around dark, unfamiliar streets.”)

Wishing you happy travels and many adventures (preferably in San Miguel de Allende, so we can see your smiling face),

Casita de las Flores
San Miguel’s cozy, comfy, and friendly B&K  
Hey! Don’t forget to check out our new specials

San Francisco Chronicle Article on safety in Mexico

 

Mexico safer than headlines indicate

Christine Delsol, Special to The Chronicle

Sunday, August 21, 2011

mn mexico19 PH1 0501349765 part6 Mexico safer than headlines indicate —vindication, at last!articlebox img bg Mexico safer than headlines indicate —vindication, at last!

Pedro Pardo / AFP/Getty Images

Tourists enjoy the beach near a police officer on patrol in Acapulco. The U.S. State Department issued a warning for Acapulco, its first for a popular tourist resort, after a year of violence in the city.

Quick – which national capital has the higher murder rate: Mexico City or Washington, D.C.?

If you answered Mexico City, you’d be in good company – after all, Mexico is a war zone, isn’t it? But you would be wrong, on both counts.

Based on FBI crime statistics for 2010 and Mexican government data released early this year, Mexico City’s drug-related-homicide rate per 100,000 population was one-tenth of Washington’s overall homicide rate - 2.2 deaths per 100,000 population compared with 22. (Drug violence accounts for most murders in Mexico, which historically does not have the gun culture that reigns in the United States.)

And while parts of Mexico can be legitimately likened to a war zone, drug violence afflicts 80 of the country’s 2,400 municipalities (equivalent to counties). Their locations have been well publicized: along the U.S. border in northern Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas states, and south to Sinaloa, Michoacan and parts of San Luis Potosí, Nayarit, Jalisco, Guerrero and Morelos states.

The flip side is that more than 95 percent of Mexico’s municipalities are at least as safe as the average traveler’s hometown. Yucatan state, for example, had 0.1 of a murder for every 100,000 people in 2010 – no U.S. tourist destination comes close to that. Most cities in central Mexico, outside of the scattered drug hot spots, have lower murder rates than Orlando.

It would seem fairly clear – fly, don’t drive, across the border into the safe regions. Yet whenever people say they are going to Mexico, the invariable response is “Aren’t you afraid?”

Media sensationalism accounts for much of the wariness. ”Gangland violence in western Mexico” “Journalists under attack in Mexico” and “Mexico mass grave toll climbs” sound as if the entire country were a killing field. The story might name the state, but rarely the town and almost never the neighborhood. And some reporters apparently are confused by the word “municipality” – some of the killings reported as being in Mazatlan, for example, actually happened in a town miles away from the city – akin to attributing East Palo Alto’s slayings to San Francisco.

But the biggest factor may be that travelers looking for a carefree vacation simply find it easier to write the entire country off than to learn what areas to avoid.

The Mexico Tourism Board is working to change that. Efforts so far have concentrated on getting accurate information to travel agents, who funnel the lion’s share of tourism to Mexico’s popular destinations. Independent travelers’ primary source of information is the State Department travel alerts (travel.state.gov), which are finally getting better at pinpointing the trouble spots.

“We are trying to work with U.S. authorities in making these travel alerts specific and not general,” said Rodolfo Lopez Negrete, the tourism board’s chief operating officer. “Unfortunately, they have projected a somewhat distorted image.”

In the meantime, we have done some of the work for you. The chart above recommends destinations for various comfort levels and travel styles. If you’re totally spooked, there are places that pose no more risk than Disneyland. If you’re open-minded but don’t want to take unnecessary risks, we have places safer than Miami, New Orleans or Washington, D.C. For fearless travelers, these sometimes dicey destinations are worth the extra caution.

Mexico safety tips

Your most important tactic for traveling safe, in Mexico or anywhere else, begins before you even decide where to go. Get familiar with Mexico’s geography; it’s a big country, and your destination might be hundreds or even a thousand miles from violence-prone areas. Keep up on Mexico coverage in major dailies, then do some focused research. Some sources:

– The current State Department travel warning (travel.state.gov) and security updates make a good start.

– The travel agents trade publication Travel Weekly has created a map that puts the latest travel warning in easily digestible graphic form (travelweekly.com/uploadedFiles/MEXICOMAP4.pdf).

– The United Kingdom Foreign Office Travel Advisory for Mexico ( www.fco.gov.uk; “Travel advice by country”) provides another perspective.

– Stratfor, a global intelligence company that advises government agencies and international corporations on security issues, is a reliable, up-to-the-minute source. Membership is expensive, but the website ( www.stratfor.com) makes some reports available for free.

Assuming you’re not headed for northern border areas, normal safety precautions that apply anywhere in the world will suffice. These are particularly important in Mexico:

– Don’t pack anything you couldn’t bear to part with; leave the bling at home.

– Carry only the money you need for the day in a money belt (not a fanny pack), and leave your passport in your hotel unless you know you will need it.

– Get local advice about areas to avoid.

– Don’t get drunk and stumble around dark, unfamiliar streets. Drunk or sober, don’t walk beaches late at night.

– Stick with taxis dispatched from your hotel or a sitio (taxi stand); if you go out for dinner, ask the restaurant to call a taxi for you.

– Drive during the day; if nighttime driving is unavoidable, use the toll roads.

– Leave a travel itinerary and a copy of your passport with someone at home. If you’ll be traveling in higher-risk areas, notify the nearest U.S. Consulate.

A final note: Don’t get rattled if you see armed soldiers patrolling the beach or manning highway checkpoints. They are young men doing a difficult job. On the road they’ll usually just ask you where you’re coming from and where you’re going; very rarely they will ask to inspect your trunk or your bags. I’ve never encountered one who wasn’t cordial and glad for a smile or a brief conversation.

- Christine Delsol

the tuesday market—a photo essay

I always encourage guests to go to the Tuesday Market (La Placita). Why? Because this ambulatory extravaganza is, according to our own world-famous San Miguel de Allende map, “a raucous and wonderful weekly festival.” Not to mention a truly Mexican experience in a town some think of as touristified. (Ahem…just depends where you go, folks. This is definitely Mexico. And the Tuesday market will prove it.) So, if you’re craving the real Mexican deal, skip that latte at Starbucks, and go to market…

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

hand-crafted gorditas

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

public intimates

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

super duper taco palace

A haven from all things touristic, La Placita is our weekly flea market/swap meet—a sensory-overloading pageant of cultural clutter, industry, and whimsy. Shop with the locals in a wonderland of commerce that’s escaped the gentrification that often results from touristic notoriety. (It’s authentically dusty, but, oh, just SO much more fun than a mall.)

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

fresh veggies

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

egg lady with mascot

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

so many clothes...yippee!

Whatever you might need, it’s at the Tuesday—from the ordinary to the bazaar (really bad pun intended)—clothing, shoes, produce, meat, and seafood; at least 12 kinds of beans and 16 types of chile; live poultry, songbirds, and bunnies; vintage junk and brand-new antiques; odd folk remedies for even odder ailments, technicolor drink stands and elaborate nomadic taco palaces; second-and third-hand everything; and (my favorite) Himalayas of cheap used and unused clothing and Sierra Madres of shoes. (How delightful is it to buy Ann Taylor and DKNY for $20 pesos?)

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

folk remedies

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

chiles by the kilo

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

Ikea, Mexico

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

magic beans

You can’t (or shouldn’t) go home/on living without at least one of the following: a $10-dollar purple polar parka, a shiny brass belt buckle depicting a cock fight, a plus-sized, fire-engine-red sequin and tafetta cocktail dress. Nor should you miss a finger-licking lunch of deep-fried fish of questionable origin and tasty hand-patted gorditas with the best red salsa, ever, with a big cup of jugo de pineapple—topped off with a quart of fresh papaya, mango and jicama swimming in chile and lime. Or maybe you really need a kilo of slimy chicken entrails, a new (to you) pair of Manolos, a couple of live pheasant, and a fine, made-in-China power drill (guaranteed to work at least once)?

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

fresh jugo

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

snow cone cool

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

a lunch of fishy fish

Or, you might be lacking a ruffled neon-green push-up bra, a spangly baseball cap bearing a nonsensical English slogan, a genuine $100 peso Rolex, sparkly blue nail polish, and a pair of huge, dangly aluminum earrings? Perhaps you’re nothing without a 1950′s metal Corona beer tray, a really bad-quality pirate DVD of E.T., a Menudo T-shirt, and a miracle cure for toe fungus / halitosis / impotence? A 1970′s North Dakota license plate or two? Hello Kitty cell phone cover? Premium Korean watch battery? Colorful Clothesline? Pumice stone? Black beans? Nopales? Mameyes, guanabanas and/or chirimoyas? Surely one of these items will complete you as a person.

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

fresalandia

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

aprons R us

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

clothes pin cutie

It’s all there at the Tuesday Market, amidst blaring music, squawking hawkers, questing shoppers, and steaming snacks. Even if you don’t “need” anything, come just for the rowdy, enveloping big-top energy of it all. It’s a truly Mexican adventure.

______

Getting there:If you’re obnoxiously fit and immune to sunstroke, hike the huge hill East of the Centro, (the prettiest route is up Correo street, and up and up and then right with the road, then left through the bush paths, past the old mall). For the more normal/sensible, we recommend a taxi. Should be about $5 pesos more than regular taxis around town. Ask for “La Placita,” and enjoy!

 the tuesday market—a photo essay

el taco man

Getting home: Tons of taxis and buses head towards the Centro and Colonia Allende all day long. The walk downhill isn’t so bad, unless you’re carrying more than four of the must-haves above (this, we leave to your own judgement). To walk back to Casita de las Flores, head South for the avenue that runs by the market. Take a right on that road, and then a left at the big roundabout with the weird statues. Then choose your way (right) down the big hill, veering left at the bottom. You’ll get home, eventually. (Another adventure)

Timing: The Tuesday is generally fully functional by 10 am, winding down (and packing up) by 4 pm.

good news for/about mexico — someone’s finally doing the math.

Last week, yet another guest told me that when she announced her audacious/suicidal plan to visit Mexico…(she’s been coming regularly for twenty years—and she hasn’t been beheaded, not even once) her co-workers went off on her:

“What, are you crazy?”
“Really? But it’s so dangerous! They’re killing people!!”
“Don’t you know there’s a war on drugs there?”

Argh. My eyes are still sore from the vicious rolling they got—having lived, worked, and traveled in Mexico since late 2000 (most of it alone) and never having met with anything even remotely dangerous.

A few days later, a guest/friend who has stayed with us no less than 10 times in the last nine years, cancelled her visit, due to dire friend and family warnings about Mexico.

This news made me deeply sad (and even more frustrated).

I am (still) so exasperated that I feel i MUST pull out the capital letters (desperate measures).

REALLY? SERIOUSLY?

Call me Miss Information

Where are these well-meaning folks getting their (mis)information? Oh, right. The media. The people that sell news (advertisements, really) for a living. News which is very often sensationalism. Which gets more viewers and sells more ads.

No news is decidedly NOT good news for the media. Happy stories don’t sell papers or garner top ratings. Beheadings—well now, that’s entertainment!

For example: Your average North Korean thinks Americans routinely eat small children for breakfast with barbeque sauce. Why? Because they believe what is fed to them by their media.

They, however, have an excuse—they do not have access to alternative and/or objective opinions.

BUT WE DO! And yet, most of us still just trust the major news shows/channels, many of who seem to be every bit as about titillation as any saucy sitcom (and perhaps more so than most reality TV).

Critical Thinking 101

Don’t believe everything you see on TV (or even in this blog). Look around, get other opinions. Investigate. Google stuff!

Do you know that in certain (if not all) countries in Europe, less enlightened people think the U.S. is intolerably violent— barbaric, even? Why? Because most of their news about the U.S. consists of American serial killers, American school shootouts, and American mad bombers. (NOTE: none of these are at all common in Mexico)

Think Unabomber, think Jeffrey Dahmer, think Columbine. These are, sadly, world-wide household phrases. But, do they define the United States?

San Miguel and 99% of Mexican towns and even cities have never witnessed such insane episodes of mass, mindless violence. (Ok, maybe in badly-dubbed TV movies.)

Case in Point: Tranquil Beach Town Fed to Sharks

Of course it’s fine, even necessary, to report a violent event. But does it have to get hours of press, days of coverage, and even re-runs years later to blow it hugely out of proportion?

The answer, apparently, is yes. Rumor has it Discovery Channel just RE-aired a show on my favorite safe, sleepy Mexican beach town, calling it “Shark Bite Beach” because, several years ago, two surfers were bitten there, and one nearby.

They neglect to mention that these were the first shark attacks in the area in 30 years. Nor do they focus on the fact that the unfortunate victims were surfing in front of open river mouths (Shark’s version of Furr’s Cafeteria. Surfing equivalent of playing in traffic.) Yet they make it seem like Troncones is overrun by Jaws and friends. Absurd. And yet people cancel reservations over this clever little phrase—affecting people’s livelihoods. (And yes, I swim and sort-of surf there as often as I possibly can. And Troncones is, truly, a beach paradise.)

Mexico: the Real Victim

It’s not just frustrating to be libeled and defamed, it’s immensely hurtful. (That’s why they have laws against that sort of thing.) A full 30% of Mexicans work in tourism…that’s a lot of families that are affected by all this trashy talk. Not to mention yours truly. Tourism, while it’s now starting to pick up, has been truly butchered by the media over the last few years.

Grateful aside: We salute the brave (rational) souls who do still come down, take advantage of the low prices caused by the anti-Mexico hysteria, have a great time and keep us alive. Bless you.

Mexican Violence Pales in Perspective

Of course there is violence in Mexico, and yes, there is a heavy battle going on to control the drug trade. Pretty sure there’s one in the States, too, with casualties and everything. I won’t even go into which country is Mexico’s main drug market (ahem) or supplier of weapons (double ahem).

But, one has to keep world-wide violence in perspective. Yes, there is violence in Mexio, but is it really that much worse than other places? Worse than, say, major cities in the United States? Read on…

Just the Facts, Señora

• There are fewer murders per 100,000 people in all of Mexico than in Los Angeles, California. (And far less than, say, Detroit.)

• Mexico is far safer than it was ten years ago, when you probably wouldn’t have thought twice about vacationing here…

• Mexico is actually one of the safest countries in Latin America.

• Big, bad Mexico City, for example, has far fewer murders per 100,000 people than Phoenix or Houston, and around half the murders (per 100K) than the City of Angels, USA.

• More than 50% of Mexico’s violent deaths happen in only four cities (Juarez, Laredo, etc.), places I would heartily avoid, myself. Like I avoid Detroit. (Sorry Detroit…I know you’re not all bad, but i’m not into big industry tourism, anyhow.)

• The other 2,396 towns and cities that make up Mexico (a country the size of Western Europe) have very low levels of violence, compared to these U.S. cities you wouldn’t bat an eye at visiting.
Disneyland, anyone?

Safe as Casas

If you really want to know what’s happening in Mexico, why not ask someone who lives here, or who visits regularly? Or at least consult the articles listed below for some professional and balanced journalistic opinions.

These accounts make a valiant attempt to intelligently fight the relentless slander of Mexico, with facts, figures, and, most importantly, a sense of perspective.

Thanks and hope to see you soon, you intrepid/rational/critical thinking souls!

xo,

Casita de las Flores
Bed and Kitchen, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (a lovely, extremely peaceful town
in beautiful Mexico—and far safer than L.A., or Mayberry, for that matter)
www.CasitaDeLasFlores.com

 

Article Highlights (the Juicy Bits):

Travel expert: Why you should go to Mexico By Robert Reid, Special to CNN. May 6, 2011

“Mexico is a lot safer than you may realize. We tend to lump all of Mexico — a country the size of Western Europe — together. For example, a border incident resulted in the death of a Colorado tourist last year, and the Texas Department of Homeland Security recommended against travel to all of Mexico.

“Yet it’s in the 17 of 31 states not named in the newly expanded warnings where you’ll find the most rewarding destinations: the Yucatan Peninsula and Baja California beach resorts, colonial hill towns like the ex-pat haven of San Miguel de Allende, even the capital Mexico City.”

Top 8 places to (safely) visit in Mexico now. LonelyPlanet.com. May 5 2011

“Before brushing a Mexico trip aside this year, consider that about 245,000 square miles are free from the State Department’s warning list (for a visual, check this CNN map) and it neatly matches areas people usually visit (Cabo, Cancún, Cozumel, Tulum, Mexico City, Oaxaca, San Miguel de Allende).”

Five safest places in Mexico for travelers Christine Delsol, San Francisco Chronicle. April 20, 2011

“But it’s still true that drug gangs are not targeting tourists now any more than they ever were. And even if the barrage of headlines makes it sound as if the entire country were in flames, the violence that feeds Mexico’s death toll takes place primarily in just nine of 31 states — mainly along the U.S. border where the smuggling takes place and in places where marijuana and heroin are produced.

The concept hasn’t changed: Stay away from the trouble spots and exhibit some common sense, and you’re more likely to perish in a tequila-fueled Jet Ski mishap than at a homicidal drug trafficker’s hands.

“In 2010, Mexico City’s drug-related homicide rate was 2.2 per 100,000. While it is not an exact comparison, since the Mexico database tracks specifically drug-related deaths, Washington, D.C.’s homicide rate for 2009, the latest year for which the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report is available, of 24 per 100,000 adds some perspective. California’s rate was 5.3; the U.S. national average was 5.0.”

Away from the U.S. border, Mexico is peaceful, beautiful Bud Kennedy, Fort Worth Star Telegram. Mar. 20, 2010

“ Look, no matter what you hear, the U.S. has not warned citizens to stay out of Mexico.

The State Department warning says to stay out of Chihuahua, Coahuila and Durango — particularly Juarez.

At any given time, about 500,000 Americans are visiting Mexico. According to the State Department, 79 Americans were killed there last year, 23 of them in Juarez.

Mathematically, that means the rest of Mexico is safer than Dallas or Houston. It’s four times safer than New Orleans.”

Travel wise: How safe is travel in Mexico?  Carol Pucci, Seattle Times. March 16, 2010

Too often in the past, these types of government alerts have taken a broad-brush approach, simply advising against travel to a country as a whole. What’s different about this warning, issued Sunday following the shooting in Ciudad Juárez of three people with ties to the American consulate, is its level of detail, and the way it rightly targets only towns where drug-related violence has been rampant.

“As the State Department points out, millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year, and this isn’t likely to change. Nearly a million Americans live in various parts of the country, enjoying the benefits of an inexpensive retirement and low-cost medical care.

I just returned from seven days in Mazatlan and Sayulita, a surfing and beach town near Puerto Vallarta popular with many from Seattle and Portland. I experienced nothing out of the ordinary, except perhaps, fewer tourists than usual. Restaurants were lively and filled with Americans and Canadians who were there seemed to be enjoying their vacations with no hassles or problems.

“The bottom line: If you’re planning a vacation soon to Mexico, by all means go, but heed the State Department’s advice and use common-sense precautions such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas during daylight hours, and avoiding areas where drug dealing might occur.”

Linda Ellerbee’s Mexico: It’s Much Better Than You Think  MexicoPremier.com. 2009, and others.

“Too much of the noise you’re hearing about how dangerous it is to come to Mexico is just that — noise. But the media love noise, and too many journalists currently making it don’t live here. Some have never even been here. They just like to be photographed at night, standing near a spotlighted border crossing, pointing across the line to some imaginary country from hell. It looks good on TV.

Another thing. The U.S. media tend to lump all of Mexico into one big bad bowl. Talking about drug violence in Mexico without naming a state or city where this is taking place is rather like looking at the horror of Katrina and saying, “Damn. Did you know the U.S. is under water?” or reporting on the shootings at Columbine or the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City by saying that kids all over the U.S. are shooting their classmates and all the grownups are blowing up buildings. The recent rise in violence in Mexico has mostly occurred in a few states, and especially along the border. It is real, but it does not describe an entire country.”


Is it Safe to Visit Mexico Now?
 Peter Greenberg. March 10, 2011

“Analyzing Geography and Crime Statistics

Here are some facts:

  • An overwhelming majority of the crime is in the northern part of the country.
  • The distance between Tijuana and Cancun almost matches the distance between Los Angeles and New York.
  • An overwhelming majority of the crime is drug related, and it is generally cartel versus cartel. Americans aren’t targeted.”

Violent Deaths in Mexico: Everything Is Not as it Seems TheCatalist.org. 11 August 2010

“According to available indicators, Mexico as a country has a general level of 13.3 violent deaths per 100.000 inhabitants, making it one of the safest countries in Latin America. Levels in Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela surprised us since they are at high as 16.8, 36.7 and 44.9 deaths per 100,000 population, respectively. Brazil and Venezuela are two and almost three times more violent than Mexico, respectively.

Moreover, if we compare this indicator with some U.S. cities we will see that our country is much better than we would expect to imagine. Comparing Mexico to Washington DC, New Orleans or Detroit the difference is very big, violence is a tangible problem in those cities. And without going too far, Mexico City has 9.8 violent deaths per 100,000 people, far below of other major cities like Houston, with 12.5, Phoenix, witn 12.6, and Los Angeles, with 17.1. It is true that there is a big problem in Ciudad Juarez and three other municipalities, which altogether sum up to more than 50% of violent deaths in Mexico. The rest of the 2,396 municipalities which form the country have relatively low violence levels.”

Amid drug war, Mexico less deadly than decade ago The Associated Press, Denver Post. Feb 2010

“A falling homicide rate means people in Mexico are less likely to die violently now than they were more than a decade ago.

It also means tourists as well as locals may be safer than many believe.

Mexico City’s homicide rate today is about on par with Los Angeles’ and is less than a third of that for Washington, D.C.”


the truth about safety in mexico—reprint from cnn.com

I want to give Robert Reid a big, wet kiss.

Mr Reid, Lonely Planet’s New York-based U.S. travel editor and host of the 76-Second Travel Show, just published a brilliant article about Mexico.

I’ve been working on a similar story for several months—but it seems I am incapable of calmness on the topic of violence in Mexico. Just kept getting all ranty (it’s just terminally frustrating to hear what the media are saying about Mexico, this beautiful, peaceful yet lively country where I’ve lived, worked, and traveled for more than 18 years without incident).

So I keep hiding the latest embarrassingly strident article draft (awash in scrawled edits) away, under my Great PanAmerican Novel-in-progress, my nearly finished much-better mousetrap, and other more realistically completeable projects, like the blog entries i’m supposed to do every month.

Ok. well. Maybe just one slightly ranty anecdote (couldn’t resist):

An expat pal and 30+plus year San Miguel resident describes a dialogue she has all too often, whilst visiting the States.
Clueless travelphobe in the media’s thrall: “You live in Mexico? Oh, I wouldn’t go there—it’s too dangerous.”
Expat pal: “Do you deal drugs?”
CT: “No, of COURSE not!”
EP: “Then you don’t have a problem.” (Trying not to shout.)

Mr. Reid, who now holds a very special place in my heart, says it all so very well (and calmly!) in the following article (click on the headline to go straight to CNN—but you’ll miss my fab commentary).

None of this is news to anyone that lives here or visits often, but it’s nice to see the media finally start to get some perspective on the real situation in Mexico. Kudos, Mr. Reid. And a huge Gracias from the 30% of Mexicans who work in tourism. Not to mention big besos from Casita de las Flores!

Please pass it on! Go to our Facebook page and LIKE the link (and us, while you’re at it)…put the link on your FB page! Forward it, Share it, Twitter it, holler it over the fence. Whatever!!

Now, tell me again why aren’t you here??

xoxo,

Casita de las Flores
www.CasitaDeLasFlores.com


Travel expert: Why you should go to Mexico

By Robert Reid, Special to CNN  [Emphasis added by yours truly]
May 6, 2011 10:10 a.m. EDT
Beach resorts on the Yucatan Peninsula are removed from the violence, author says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
Popular tourist spots are largely removed from drug violence, Robert Reid says
Reid feels the U.S. is “fortunate, not cursed” to be so close to Mexico
In most of central and southern Mexico, drug violence isn’t on the radar of daily life
Editor’s Note: Robert Reid is Lonely Planet’s New York-based U.S. travel editor and host of the 76-Second Travel Show.
New York (CNN) –

Mexico tourism is having a bit of a PR problem lately.    [This is a BIT of an understatement]

Reports of mass grave sites, daylight shootings and carjackings from the escalating drug war don’t exactly build confidence for a family planning a week’s holiday. And on April 22, the U.S. State Department upgraded its travel warnings to target 14 of Mexico’s 31 states.

Now’s not the time to visit our southerly neighbor, right? Well, wrong. Mexico is a lot safer than you may realize.
We tend to lump all of Mexico — a country the size of Western Europe — together. For example, a border incident resulted in the death of a Colorado tourist last year, and the Texas Department of Homeland Security recommended against travel to all of Mexico.  [It's SO much easier to generalize. All those pesky details just clutter up a good travel warning...]

Yet it’s in the 17 of 31 states not named in the newly expanded warnings where you’ll find the most rewarding destinations: the Yucatan Peninsula and Baja California beach resorts, colonial hill towns like the ex-pat haven of San Miguel de Allende, even the capital Mexico City.
Mexican protesters march to end drug war
An hour inland from Cancun’s beaches, Yucatan state — home to the most popular Mayan sites and “real Mexican” colonial cities such as Merida and Valladolid — is among the country’s safest. The state, with roughly the same population as Kansas, saw two drug-related deaths in 2010. Wichita, Kansas, alone had six gang-related killings over the same period.

Lonely Planet: 8 top places to (safely) visit in Mexico now   [Click on this link! San Miguel is in the top 8!]

In most of central and southern Mexico, drug violence simply isn’t on the radar of daily life. “It’s as easy-going as it’s always been,” said Deborah Felixson, a diving operator on Cozumel who is “shocked” when people say they had been scared to go to the Caribbean island. “We’re just small communities here. We all know what everyone’s up to.”
That sentiment is found even in places once linked with political tension, such as Chiapas state and Oaxaca City, where political protest turned into a stand-off in 2006.
“Things are so much quieter now,” said Rogelio Vallesteros, who runs a Spanish-language school in Oaxaca City. “People call to ask about safety all the time, then they come and see how quiet it is. We’re normal, really.”
Mexico tourism official: Vacation spots far removed from violence
After the swine-flu crisis of 2009 — when some cruise ships diverted routes from Mexican ports that had no reported cases to American ones that did — travel bounced back a bit last year. Interestingly, the increase of returning Canadians and many Western Europeans doubled that of the American rate. We seem to remain particularly leery of Mexico.
That’s sad. [another wee understatement, especially if you're one of the 30% of Mexicans who makes a living from tourism] My love of travel began with childhood visits to Mexican ruins and beaches, and I feel the U.S. is fortunate, not cursed, to be so close to a place that offers jungles, deserts, volcanoes, beaches, coral reefs, ancient pyramids, living pre-European cultures and some of the world’s most satisfying cuisines.   [ditto!]
And of course the best reason to go: the people. [double ditto!]
A couple years ago, I informally polled various innkeepers and tour operators worldwide to find out who are the world’s friendliest travelers. Guess who won. “Mexicans are such a joy to have here,” one Bulgarian guesthouse owner e-mailed back. “They make everyone feel happier.”
And it’s often better in Mexico, where locals show particular gusto in love of life. [si señor! mucho gusto.] Once I saw fireworks go off in Mexico City, before sunset, and asked a local why. He was surprised I didn’t know. “It’s Friday,” he explained.
In restaurants, strangers seeing each other’s eyes instinctively say “buen provecho” before eating. It’s an earnest wish that their food should not only be tasty, but really pleasurable, and that the hope that their life will be a bit better as a result. There really is no English equivalent. Even our adopted “bon appétit” pales in significance.
Naturally, crime exists everywhere in Mexico.
I’ve been pickpocketed in Guadalajara (and in New York, too). But that’s the extent of my unpleasant scrapes in a dozen visits that have taken me to home-stay language courses, traditional Mayan markets, mummy museums, cenotes (surreal limestone sinkholes in which you can swim) and even Zapatista zones in the south.
Most travel to Mexico, ultimately, is simply good travel. It’s fun, affordable, eye-opening and fascinating (seriously, what other city of 21 million other than Mexico City is founded on a filled-in lake?).
But, no, you don’t have to visit Mexico. And there are certainly places, like Ciudad Juarez or Tamaulipas state, I’d never visit now. Just know that the Mexico experienced on the ground almost never matches the Mexico we increasingly see and read about.

[amen y gracias, Señor Reid]

notes from abroad: perspective gained as innkeeper-turned-guest

— or —

the view from the other side of the check-in desk: the fine art of lodging reviews

 

 notes from abroad: perspective gained as innkeeper turned guestFortunately, it doesn’t happen often, but yes, we do get the occasional complaint and have received a couple of not-very-nice reviews. My favorite is from a Brit who ignored our detailed arrival instructions (which have been efficiently bringing guests here for nine years), failed to tell us when he would be arriving, and had apparently lost the carefully-made location map we sent him.

He had to (gasp!) ask for directions. A friendly local he had accosted actually brought him to our door. And, since we didn’t have an ETA, he had to wait a bit to be checked in.

To me, this would make for a fun travel story. To him, it was The End Of The World. He was very upset upon arrival and would not accept my repeated apologies, even though his discombooberation was no fault of ours. Said gentleman later wrote an online review, titled “Charming comfortable place – but really poor organisation.” (He also dissed my lovingly made map…)

There are those who simply shouldn’t travel. (Or maybe, they should only vacation in the first world.)

People get lost, wires get crossed, planes, trains and buses get delayed—stuff simply happens. (More often than not, in the third world.) It’s an integral part of what real travel is. If mishaps are so traumatic, it’s probably best to stick to cruise boats (assuming there are no icebergs around, that is). Or, just stay home, where everything is nice and safe and predictable.

Still, every single dissatisfied guest hurts, even the unreasonable ones. I’ve been trying to thicken my skin, without noticeable results. Recently, however, a friendly guest helped me put it all in perspective. We were sitting in the patio, talking about the Casita and the subject of Tripadvisor came up. I told her my concerns. “Oh, we don’t pay attention to every malcontent,” she said. “We look at all the reviews and try to get an overall picture.”

Whew!

Of course, the Casita isn’t perfect (trust me, nobody knows better than i) and we do sometimes make mistakes. But, we care and we try—two attitudes that are not exactly omnipresent in today’s business world. (Have you flown with a U.S. airline recently?)

For the price and for what you get—and, more importantly for what you don’t get—i have to say that Casita de las Flores is absolutely fabulous! Consider a recent travel experience of my own:

(It made for what i think is a fun story.)

—-

I’m traveling in Costa Rica and paying more than $45 US for a single room with this view:

 notes from abroad: perspective gained as innkeeper turned guest
Please note the homey touches, such as
 notes from abroad: perspective gained as innkeeper turned guest
junk heap on abandoned parking lot ringed by razor wire
 notes from abroad: perspective gained as innkeeper turned guest
blinding all-nite streetlight, and the busy thoroughfare behind.

Turns out that calle is San Jose’s Avenida Central (guess what that means–yes, mucho traffico). Another detail perhaps not visible in the photo—the razor wire on the fence and the camera aimed at my windows. (Nothing gives you that warm, fuzzy, at-home feeling like a security camera.)

The room itself is pretty nice, if bare. It’s in a 1930’s home near downtown San Jose. The tile in the hallway is gorgeous and the room has hardwood floors (tons of hardwood around here) and huge arched windows, but…there is a sad, dismal, depressing fluorescent (ack!) energy-saver bulb in overhead lamp. Makes me think (rather vividly) of movie interrogations. Or insane asylums. (PS: we do use energy saving bulbs at the Casita, but only the modern, bright, warm, fuzzy-light bulbs)

Meanwhile, my Costa Rica windows have no curtains, just tropical-looking bamboo-type blinds which no longer open unless you roll them by hand and try to tie them off with dangling bits of erstwhile pull cord. But really, this is a blessing, given the view.

At night, I am living in a Film Noir, with bright yellow 4000-watt stripes zig zagging across the bed and back wall. In order to sleep, I must carefully position my head where the bit of wall between the windows blocks the all-night streetlight blazing in.

In the morning, I wake up at 6:00 am, squinting and roasting in stripes with hot sun pouring in. Also, the unscreened windows must be kept closed to block at least part of the noise from the small freeway just beyond the junk heap. (Hot, hot, hot, and stuffy.) And, saddest of all, for me–no fan, ceiling or otherwise. No moving air in the tropics, in a room whose windows are far better closed. (PS: each room at the Casita has a working ceiling fan, and a heater, for winter).

A bonus: squeakiest bed imaginable. Cannot even think of moving without unmusical accompaniment.

Not to be PI (politcally incorrect), but I’m guessing it’s owned by absentee landlords, who are probably blind (straight) men. Very low on creature comforts or atmospheric touches. When decorating the Casita, at least, I imagined myself sleeping in the rooms, cooking in the kitchen, sitting on the patio—and I tried to include the (affordable) comforts I would need, were I my guest. (Unfortunately, the Jacuzzi was a bit out of our price range, and there just wasn’t anywhere to put private baths, or I woulda.)

Ok, so apart from the hardwood floors and cool hall, my room kinda sucks, aesthetically speaking. But the people are very nice and the sheets are clean. There’s wifi. All in all, it’s been a safe, comfortable home base for my forays into town.

So, guess what? I am not going to go online and give them a bad review. I shall give the desk person some friendly, annoying suggestions (that will most likely be ignored) and be on my way. Tolerance is a beautiful thing, yes? (She says after venting to complete strangers.)

But really, it’s not their fault. I take responsibility for my aesthetic sensitivities and will simply have to pay more to get the little things that make me comfortable.

One more thing.

This is for the cranky guy who complained to the universe at large (on Tripadvisor) about the detailed Casita map (lovingly and personally drawn and written by yours truly, then photocopied with care).

The map of San Jose provided by the hotel is an antique. And not in a good way. Borrowed from somewhere (in the early seventies, I’m guessing), it is at least an 8th generation photocopy. No black in evidence, only grey and white.

Someone tried, though. He or she went in and pasted numbers on a handful of places of interest (half the time, however, the number blots out the name and/or shape of the edifice it marks).

Somewhere along the Xerox chain, the numbers in the key describing what each place actually is have conveniently been cut off. So the map numerals remain mysterious symbols obscuring unknown landmarks that you simply must see.

(Or maybe it’s a travel game: identify the building and match the number with the description. Hours of fun for the entire family.)

After an hour or so of inept circling whilst searching for a recommended restaurant, with blood sugar dangerously low, I try showing the map to locals, asking how to get there from here. I might as well have a map of downtown Hong Kong in my hands. The helpful Josephinos try, but are unable to decipher it.

Of course, most of the time, they don’t even know what street we’re on. This is one of the many charms of Costa Rica. People do not use street addresses. They speak in landmarks…”The hardware store? It’s 500 meters west of the whatsit.” (Which is fine if you know where the whatsit is…)

Complain about OUR place, our map will you? Why I oughtta….

But it’s all good. Great, actually.

Don’t worry, be happy­—we’re traveling, what luck! Do you realize what a small percentage of people on the planet actually have this luxury? (If you do know that number, please tell me cause i’d love to know.)

Pura vida,

Casita de las Flores B&K (Bed and Kitchen)
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico budget accommodations

www.casitadelasflores.com

welcome to slice of life: san miguel, our official san miguel de allende blog

donkey face 4x6color 225x300 welcome to slice of life: san miguel, our official san miguel de allende blog

donkey sculpture by san miguel artist

The official blog of Casita de las Flores. The Casita is San Miguel’s charming, affordable, friendly, and slightly unconventional alternative to expensive hotels and B&B’s. Being eminently qualified to show you the quirky side of visiting or living in San Miguel de Allende, we offer you this blog. Enjoy (or just shake your head at) our news, musings, local color, and the occasional rant. Then come stay with us. You won’t regret it!

(PS: We don’t rant in person. Just in cyberspace.)

xo casita1 welcome to slice of life: san miguel, our official san miguel de allende blog

 

Casita de las Flores B&K (Bed and Kitchen)
San Miguel de Allende hotel
/ B&B style budget accommodations
www.casitadelasflores.com